This year there was a great Christmas present from Flatland Games, which one or the other knows from the game Beyond the Wall and Other Adventures. This time you don’t slip into the role of young people in a small village, but go out into the wide world, plunder and conquer cities and lands and discover lost ruins.
Like Beyond the Wall (BtW), Through Sunken Lands (TSL) is a sandbox, but offers a little more setting. The world is roughly described and there are maps that can be used as a group. If you don’t want that, you can simply make your own maps and play on them, as in BtW. The setting is based on classic works of the Sword & Sorcery genre such as Robert E. Howard’s Conan, Fritz Leiber’s Lankhmar and Moorcock’s Eternal Champion. The description of the setting is long enough to get a rough picture and short enough to leave plenty of room for interpretation and your own creations.
Through Sunken Lands is based on the same system as BtW and is fully compatible. This is referred to several times in the book, the playbooks of both games can be used in the other game. TSL is an OSR and a d20 is used for all rolls (except damage). For normal tests you have to roll equal to or below your attribute value, with skills giving a bonus of +2. Saving throws and attack throws, however, must be equal to or greater than their respective values in order to be successful.
Characters are created through playbooks. There are three classes: warrior, rogue and mage, although there are also multiclassing characters. The playbook gives you background and the story of your character. That is the great strength of TSL and BtW, you have an interesting character within a few minutes. In TSL you start at level 2 and are therefore quite competent. You play characters like the barbaric conqueror (Conan sends his regards), the pirate captain or the temple keeper. Each class comes with its own talents and skills. Attribute increases and possible spells obtained are selected at random through the playbooks. Spells are divided into three categories: cantrips, spells, and rituals. A mage can conjure up as many spells a day as his level is, but these succeed automatically. For the other two variants, he has to make a check. There are a number of spells in the book, but most OSR spells should be convertible easily.
Fighting and healing are kept very minimalistic and the equipment part of the book is also very short. In general, the group in TSL and BtW is left with a lot of their own if they want more content in these areas. A great addition in TSL is the mass combat system. Anyone expecting diverse, tactical options here is out of place. Instead, you can handle film-like battles very quickly, in which the characters can turn the outcome of the battle in highlight scenes. These battles happen in three phases: preparation, actual battle, and aftermath. In the first phase, the respective sides can explore the battlefield, drill the troops or prepare tactics. The result of the tests later influences the course of the battle. In the actual battle, the respective leaders roll dice how they lead the battle and the previous preparations, as well as the number of soldiers, give corresponding bonuses or penalties. After this roll, the players can play a scene of how they want to influence the battle, be it a duel with an important opponent, a battle with countless soldiers or even secret missions. All of these actions are then counted towards the leader’s tide of combat roll and a table shows how successful the battle was. Then the group can choose from options what they want to do with their successes (and failures), be it capturing opponents, causing damage, looting or even taking losses themselves.
Another very interesting part is travel by sea. The group has the choice between fast travel (i.e. usually without events and the journey takes place according to the SL’s narration), the hex field exploration from Further Afield (a BtW supplement that is then required) or a medium solution. The length of the voyage is taken into account and a test by the navigator or captain decides on the number of encounters.
The heart of TSL, in addition to the playbooks, are the scenario packs. In combination of the two, a game master can play an adventure without preparation. While the players are building their characters with the playbooks, the game master rolls the dice on several tables to create enemies, dungeons and plot twists. You also get hooks for further adventures. In some tables the gm fills in npcs, places or objects created through the playbooks to get the players invested.
Through Sunken Lands has 217 pages and is full color. The layout and typesetting is as in BtW and can be read properly. Some of the pictures are in full color and partly remind me of The One Ring, while others are completely blue. I would have liked a uniform style, although I generally like the artwork. The game comes with three very different scenario packs and nine playbooks, a good starting point for your first adventures.
Who might be interested in Through Sunken Lands and Other Adventures:
- Players and GMs who prefer less rules and more flexibility
- People who like to create things themselves
- Players who focus on narrative rather than mechanics
Who might not be interested in Through Sunken Lands and Other Adventures:
- Players and GMs who want a set of rules that covers everything
- People who need a comprehensive description of the setting
- Players who want complex character development